Growing up in two different cultures

It can feel strange when you’re one person outside the family house, and another at home. You want to show respect to your parents and elders, as you’ve been brought up to do, but you love the freedom possible away from them, too.  Negotiating the line between the two can sometimes be disorientating.

Are you wondering about your identity?  And where do you belong?

The nice answer to this could be that you span both cultures. You’re the human equivalent of a bridge,

Think of yourself as a bridge between two cultures

Think of yourself as a bridge between two cultures

in a way that others born into only one culture could never achieve. From this angle, being bi-cultural allows you many positives: to appreciate both kinds of music, food, ways of thinking, clothing, family relationships….

international students

Could you join or start a University Society to get people together?

A drawback could be always feeling a little different, in each culture, as you have the advantage/disadvantage of understanding both perspectives.  Meeting up with others in the same position – born into a family with a distinct cultural identity and living in Britain – can be reassuring, as everyone’s dealing with similar issues. Are there any support groups on-line for people of your ethnic background? Could you join or start a University Society to get people together to discuss this situation?

If there are issues around culture that you can’t see how to resolve, think about coming in to the Counselling & Wellbeing service to make an appointment.   The reception for Counselling & Wellbeing is in the Carrington Building, first floor, room 106 and you can register any weekday between 10 – 4.   You can talk things through confidentially with us.

What is your Ikigai?

The Summer months are here, and for some of you that means graduation, celebrations and the prospect of finding work. Some people may know exactly what they want to do for their next stage of life, while others have not yet decided.

Beginning your working life can be liberating, you become more independent and feel fully a part of the adult world. You may make new and wonderful friends, discover skills you never knew you had and be inspired to try different aspects of working life or even travel abroad. The opportunities are many and varied. And of course, vitally – you can earn your own money!

But what makes us happy in our work? Fortunately nowadays we are no longer trapped in the position of having to stay in one job for the rest of our lives. What you do over the next few years, may be entirely different to where you might be in 10 or 20 years’ time. We can gain skills and experience wherever we are and transfer them to other positions. So variety might be the spice of life for you, or perhaps you prefer a steadier and more secure path?

The Japanese have a word to encompass how we can find happiness in our work, it’s “Ikigai,” essentially it means ‘a reason to get up in the morning’.

Ikigai 1 (1) resized

The diagram shows us through interconnecting circles how we can achieve Ikigai, right in the centre, through finding meaning and purpose in what we do in everyday life. It is possible to feel purposeful in any role we may take on, we just have to be aware and notice it.

It may not be easy to hit upon one job that can provide us with all the Ikigai criteria, but it is possible to choose one form of work that offers us a couple of them, whilst another or even a hobby provides us with the rest. The key is to find balance and fulfilment for a healthy, mindful and creative life.

So when you say your good-byes to the University of Reading, there may be normal jitters about the unknown challenges ahead, and hopefully there will also be exhilaration for the opportunities and experiences you may seize along your way.

Giving Presentations

In spite of stress, anxiety, awkwardness …..

Recognise any of these feelings in the lead-up to giving a presentation? Even the most practised performers can experience these emotions. Think of singers like John Lennon, who performed on stage thousands of times, but who was often sick before his live performances.  Adele, and the actor and public speaker, Stephen Fry, both suffer from stage fright. Being in front of an audience is stressful. But the adrenaline of these ‘nerves’ can energise you, too!

check out the study advice guide for hints and tips on presenting in seminars

check out the study advice guide for hints and tips on presenting in seminars

If you haven’t looked at the Reading University Study Advice ‘study guides’ yet, make sure you’re well-prepared academically, by reading them through.  The guides can be downloaded at:

or you can download the full range of Reading University Study guides to your mobile via the Study Advice free study skills e-book.  Just check out the study advice web pages for more information.

How often have you heard, ‘practice makes perfect’?   The main benefit of practice is to develop your familiarity with the task in hand.  As this familiarity increases and the words become almost routine, feelings of anxiety decrease, and so impact your performance less.

practice your presentation in advance so that you feel calm and confident giving it to your class

How about trying these two techniques?

  1. Recite the presentation content from start to finish at least 5 times. By the time you’ve done this, you may be bored – that’s the idea!  Once you know your material so well, you should feel confident in delivering it to others. Try another 5 times, focusing on your voice.  Slowing the speed down makes your presentation easier to understand, and betrays your anxiety less.  This creates a virtuous circle – people can’t hear the anxiety, including you!
  2. Then, find a kind friend or someone you like, to say your presentation in front of. Perhaps you could do the same for them. (If you can’t find anyone willing, at least record yourself, to replicate the effect of someone watching you.) Get the person to sit on a chair facing you, to keep silent, and to give you feedback afterwards about your body-language, eye contact, and clarity of speech. Are there parts you rushed through? Was it loud enough?

Doing this will help you feel less anxious when you get up in public, knowing that you’ve already presented your material to at least one person in a similar set-up.

…… smoothly delivering your presentation in a calm, clear voice.

Keeping Active to Tackle Exam Stress

As you approach the oncoming exam period, it is extremely important to stay active and to not spend all of your time shut away in your room or hunched over books in the library. Keeping our bodies moving at times of anxiety and pressure enables us to cope more readily with the stressors which face us.

Take time to go outside, get some fresh air and keep moving

Take time to go outside, get some fresh air and keep moving

You might not know, but the word Exercise comes from a Latin root meaning “to maintain, to keep, to ward off.”   These words have special meaning for those of us who want our brain to stay healthy and be mentally sharp. We need to keep our bodies moving (especially our legs) or they will literally give out on us when we need them most. If you have been forgetting things or have brain fog it just might be lack physical exercise that is causing the problem.

exercise is good for the body - even just taking a walk across campus

exercise is good for the body – even just taking a walk across campus

We all know that exercise is good for the body, but it’s incredibly good for the brain too. Exercise zaps harmful stress chemicals. It boosts problem-solving, planning and our attention span. Exercise increases the oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by a rise in mental sharpness.

The human brain evolved under conditions of almost constant motion.  From this, we could predict that the optimal environment for processing information would include motion. Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.

Another factor to consider is endorphins, the chemicals released by the pituitary gland in response to stress or pain. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins which tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria. This allows the pleasure associated with neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine to be more apparent.

3 female students walking across campus

Exercise is important in boosting your mental well-being too

Not only is exercising in moderation good for your overall health and fitness, but it also boosts your mental well-being. Exercise will help keep you calm during exams. You’ll feel more energised and refreshed, and that will help you perform better in your studies.

You could try this: To Wake up your Brain in the Morning:

As you wake up while you’re still in bed, slowly begin to move your toes – any way that feels good. Wriggle, scrunch, and stretch. Move all your toes up and down several times, or work just your big toes.

Wiggling your toes activates nerves that stimulate your brain and internal organs.  Do this exercise first thing each morning or after sitting for an extended period of time whilst revising. It will help you to wake-up and become alert more quickly. Your whole body may feel pleasantly energized.



Positive self-talk

How do you think about yourself?  Do you sometimes use phrases about yourself that actually describe mental health issues? The urge to use extreme descriptions probably comes from social media, where there’s a tendency to exaggerate, to avoid being ignored.

Maybe it is time to reflect…..

Ask yourself – would you use these terms about yourself in your mind, or in casual conversation?

I had a breakdown.”  Would a better description be that you cried for a while over something upsetting?  There could be a confusion here with the expression, “I broke down in tears”.   That’s a healthy reaction to something sad.   An actual breakdown is much more serious and in some cases it could involve hospitalisation.

I was depressed.”   Perhaps a better way to describe your feeling would be to say that you were understandably sad about something that’d got you down, and then managed to pick yourself up and carry on with normal life fairly soon?  Depression is a medical condition that lasts longer than a few hours – many people who suffer from depression do so for months or years.

I had a panic attack.”   A better way to describe this might be to say you felt stressed about a worrying situation, and wondered how you were going to deal with it?  A panic attack usually leaves someone unable to manage daily life for an extended period.

It’s hard to have a balanced view and feel you’re coping, if you’re using extreme labels for normal reactions to the things life throws at us.

I’m normally a happy, bubbly person.  Being ‘down’ just isn’t me.”   It may be better to think whether this really is the case?   Perhaps feeling upset (one of the range of normal emotions) is something you find hard to tolerate?  We all prefer being happy, but being human means feeling all sorts of different things from time to time. Now and then we all experience sadness, disappointment, anger, loneliness, grief, and other so-called ‘negative’ emotions.  How would we appreciate happiness, if we never felt anything else?

A different approach to your self-talk could be to focus on your feelings in a mindful way.   To find out more about Mindfulness, have a look at our leaflet:

There are ‘Life Tools‘ talks on Mindfulness each term, which can help you accept your current emotion and recognise that it’ll pass – important for your wellbeing.

Look After your Mates

Today is University Mental Health Day…not a lot of people know that… It’s also National Salt Awareness Week, FairTrade Fortnight and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
So much to be aware of, so little time……
However, if there is one thing that you do today, let it be having a bit of extra time and space for your friends.   A recent N.U.S survey revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly not only that rates of stress, depression and anxiety are increasing for students, but also that students are most likely to talk to their friends before family or professionals.
Student Minds has put together a campaign called ‘Look After Your Mates’ designed to help people support their friends more effectively, and also feel less overwhelmed themselves. So what simple steps can you take to help your friends?

• Make time for them;
• Try not to be a ‘fixer’ of their problems, but offer them time and a friendly, non-judgemental listening ear;
• Encourage them in their endeavours;
• Find out who might be able to help, if you feel that professional help might be more appropriate.

look after your mates

Eat well to ‘Boost your Brainpower’

At this time of year when you are studying hard, your good intentions to eat healthily can often slide way down your list of priorities. It’s all too easy to get into the habit of drinking coffee or high sugar drinks and ordering take-away pizza, because you don’t want to waste time on food preparation. However research shows that good regular nutrition is all part of a successful study plan because it enables you to perform at your best.

try to eat a piece of fruit every day to boost your brain power

try to eat a piece of fruit every day to boost your brain power

We’ve all heard about the benefits of starting the day with a good nutritious breakfast, however this is very often the meal that is skipped due to time constraints. It is so vital to start the day with some protein, calcium, fibre, fruit or vegetables, which might sound difficult, but is actually very easy. For example, a bowl of cereal with milk and a piece of fruit would do the trick or a piece of toast with peanut butter and a banana. Alternatively if you are short on time, try a cereal bar, a glass of milk and an apple or whiz up a smoothie in a blender (see recipe below), these can be eaten ‘on the go’ and are full of nutrients to kick start your body and mind.

It is also worth knowing that certain foods are ‘Stress-busters’ and can help to boost your resilience. These include: Zinc which is found in lean meat, eggs, yoghurt, cheese, whole wheat, popcorn, nuts and seeds; Vitamin C which is found in all fruit and vegetables; B Vitamins found in Whole-grains, Marmite, yoghurt, beans and avocado; and Magnesium found in dark leafy vegetables, grapefruit, sweetcorn, nuts and seeds, raisins, carrots and tomatoes.

dark green veg such as spinach and kale are full of  magnesium and vitamin C

dark green veg such as Swiss chard, spinach and kale are full of magnesium and vitamin C

By incorporating these nutritious foods into your diet, you will be not only feel more energetic and able to focus, but will be boosting your brain power and mental health.

So, why not challenge yourself to make eating more healthily part of your study plan for 2016, if you start now you will give yourself the best chance to feel motivated and energised for the rest of this academic year and for the upcoming exams in the summer… Go on it’s worth a try!


Breakfast Smoothie

Serves 1

1 banana – cut into 4 pieces

Frozen berries – 1 handful

Pineapple (tinned) – 2 dessert spoonsful

Water – 1 small cup

Plain Yoghurt – 2 dessert spoonsful


Put all of the above and blitz till smooth, then drink and enjoy!

Making time to talk

Did you know that up to one in four of us might experience some form of mental health difficulty in our lifetime? Yet, whilst we happily regale others with details of our colds, allergies, bowel movements or physical aches and pains, many of us are reluctant to even hint at any mental health difficulty.

Hopefully things are starting to shift, and we can all start to feel more comfortable about admitting to lecturers that we experience anxiety when delivering presentations, or sharing with employers that we find the winters particularly difficult because of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  However, it is an undeniable reality that there is still stigma around mental health problems.

Whilst not suggesting that we all suddenly don personal billboards stating we have depression/anxiety/bi-polar disorder etc, there are small steps that we can all take to start making it easier to have a conversation about our collective mental health.  If you think about it, one in four people means that three in four people know someone with a mental health problem.  That’s someone in your lecture hall, someone in your house, someone you work with….someone in your family.

So what can you do to start this conversation?

  • Ask someone how they (really) are…and wait to hear the answer;
  • If you notice someone is less upbeat than usual, suggest doing something together;
  • Ping someone you care about a text to show you’re thinking of them;
  • Make someone a cuppa;
  • Do the washing up / tidying / shopping, without being asked, to show that you care.

time to change

Time to Talk Day is Thursday 4th February 2016 – do one small thing; make a difference.

bird graphic for tweets#smallthings

January’s Promises to Self!

January the 1st is, for the Western World, the beginning of a New Year and an opportunity to review events and achievements from the past year and to plan how we would like this year to go. How many of us have made promises to ourselves in the past only to find that we were not able to keep them for very long at all! This is called “being human” so we have all done this at some point.

Returning to University, lectures, seminars and deadlines can feel a bit harder in winter due to the well- known tendency to Hibernate like bears or dormice during the colder, darker weeks of the Christmas break.  Here are some ideas to help get your motivation up and running again:

Mindful Decluttering
A tidy space to live and study in helps you to focus more effectively and once it’s done you will use far less time on looking for lost things and having distracting thoughts about needing to tidy up. Perhaps your living space could do with a bit of rearranging so that you have clear study and living areas? The Chinese art of Feng Sui teaches us that you can increase positive harmonious effects by having clear energy paths in our environment thus decluttering the mind at the same time.

working in a tidy living space can make a real difference

working in a tidy living space can make a real difference

Study Habits
We can all get into some pretty stuck habits sometimes and this can apply to studying too. Do you have some study habits that need a bit of a shake up? Things like leaving writing up until the last minute? Or maybe you have that habit of trying to study throughout the night and then feeling exhausted for days afterwards? Would a change of scenery help the creative process, maybe finding a different place to study will give you a different outlook?

Healthy Eating
The winter period, previously referred to as Hibernation, can be a time when it’s tempting to eat more unhealthy foods such as snacks, cake and chocolates. Each food we eat has a different effect on our mind as well as body and so trying to switch back to brain foods such as oily fish, whole grain rice and breads and fruits such as blueberries and blackberries can help you feel mentally and physically energised. Maybe agree with some flatmates that you will cook interesting and healthy meals together a couple of times a week?


Too much or too little? Maybe you have always wanted to join a particular club or group but something has got in the way or held you back, perhaps now could be a good opportunity to give it a go. You will never know if it’s for you if you don’t give it a try. Or perhaps you have the opposite problem, being easily derailed from essential tasks by the lure of the night out! Easily done we know. Perhaps this term is the time to be selective in the options you take up. You might enjoy the events even more if you know you have done all the other things you need to as well.

Just some suggestions for promises to Self, no one has to know unless you want them too ! Spring is approaching, the days will get longer and all hibernators can emerge refreshed and energised for the new year !New Term Promises to self picture

‘Hygge’ yourself…

What’s ‘Hygge’?

evening street with lights resized

This is the time of the year when it often feels grey and cold

Hygge, pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, is a Danish word which in translation refers to the concept of ‘cosiness of the soul’.   And they should know, Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world (World Happiness Report 2015).
Around this time of year, as the nights draw in and it becomes colder and greyer, it’s a really good excuse for us to wrap up, keep warm and cosy.

These things can be good for our wellbeing. Instead of feeling low about the lack of sun, feel grateful that you can make a nutritious home-made soup (see recipe below), and snuggle under a blanket in the evening with a good book or box set.  Share your soup or hot chocolate with some friends and enjoy a card game or just chat.

take time to share a hot drink with friends or  just have a chat

take time to share a hot drink with friends or just have a chat


There is a vintage feel about Hygge, taking us back to a time when people would sit in front of the fire in winter, telling stories and eating cinnamon pastries. We can create the same soothing effect with fairy lights and nice cup of tea.
So get on your old woolly jumper, fluffy socks and snuggle up…ahhhhhh.


Hygge Soup
A simple soup that takes 20 mins to prepare and can be frozen and stored for up to 3 months.

1 Medium Onion Chopped
2 Carrots Peeled and chopped into 1 cm dice
4-5 Large Florets of Cauliflower chopped into small bite size pieces
4-5 Large Florets of Broccoli chopped into small bite size pieces
1 Large Potato peeled and chopped into 2cm dice
1 Handful Frozen Peas
1 Vegetable stock cube
1 Kettle of boiling water
15ml oil

1) In a saucepan on a gentle heat add the oil then add the chopped onion and carrot, and stir for 3-4 mins trying not to colour them in the oil.
2) Add the cauliflower and continue to stir.
3) Add the stock cube, and stir for 30 secs then add 500 ml of the boiling water, so the veg in the pan are just covered.
4) Simmer for 5-10 mins
5) Add the Potato and simmer for a further 5 mins, add more water if required to keep all the contents just covered.
6) Add the Broccoli and Peas and simmer for a further 5 mins, again add water if required.
7) Once all the veg are tender (sample a piece of each), remove from the heat.
8) Check the broth for seasoning, do not add salt before this point, and always taste first as stock cubes are naturally salty
9) Spoon into a bowl and add a sprinkle of grated cheese (optional)